In Depth

Timeline: Britney Spears’ conservatorship battle

Singer attacks ‘embarrassing and demoralising’ arrangement in court appearance

Britney Spears has launched an attack on her “abusive” 13-year conservatorship, claiming it caused “way more harm than good” during a court appearance in Los Angeles. 

The 39-year-old popstar gave an “extraordinary 23-minute speech” to a US judge in which she said she was “traumatised” by the court order, The Telegraph reports. 

Amid concerns over Spears’ mental health, her father James Spears – known as Jamie – took control of his daughter’s affairs in 2008 as her “conservator”: a person appointed by a court to manage an incapacitated person or minor’s financial and personal affairs.  

Since then, her estate, finances and personal life have been controlled by her father and various co-conservators. Spears, who has earned millions of dollars during the term of the conservatorship, said yesterday that her family have “lived off” the arrangement. 

“I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive,” Spears told the court, adding that she would like “to get married and have a baby” in the future but her “so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor” to have her contraceptive device removed.  

“I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. And I'm depressed. I cry every day,” she continued, adding: “I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does, by having a child, a family, any of those things.” 

Spears’ battle against the court order is being backed by a grassroots movement of fans known as the #FreeBritney campaign that gained renewed public attention following the release earlier this year of the documentary Framing Britney Spears

Timeline of Britney Spears’ conservatorship
31 January 2008

Following several now-infamous incidents - including shaving her hair off in front of 70 photographers - the 26-year-old Spears is put under a temporary “5150 hold” in a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital. A 5150 hold, which refers to a section of California’s Welfare and Institutions Code, can be enacted if a person is a danger to themselves, to others, or they are “gravely disabled”. 

1 February 2008

James Spears is given control of his daughter’s affairs and financial assets under a temporary conservatorship. 

26 July 2008

Spears and her ex-husband Kevin Federline agree to a child custody settlement, awarding Federline full custody of sons Sean Preston and Jayden James, and permitting Spears to three visits a week. Spears had initially lost custody and visitation rights to her children in January.

16 September 2008

The singer’s mother Lynne Spears published Through The Storm, including details of events in the run-up to Britney’s “breakdown”.

28 October 2008 

The temporary conservatorship over Spears is made permanent, giving her father control of the singer’s personal and financial affairs indefinitely. Judge Reva Goetz said: “The conservatorship is necessary and appropriate for the complexity of financial and business entities and her being susceptible to undue influence,” ABC News reports. 

30 November 2008

The MTV documentary Britney: For The Record is released. “I’ve been through a lot in the last two or three years,” she tells the interviewer, as film crews follow Spears through the preparation of her sixth studio album, Circus. “I’m sad,” she tells viewers.

May 2012

Simon Cowell announces that Spears will be a judge on the US edition of The X Factor. As a business decision, the deal was agreed with her conservators and sanctioned by a judge, with the star signing up for one season of the show. 

December 2013

Spears begins her residency in Las Vegas at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. “The pop star has signed up to perform 50 shows in 2014 and 2015,” the BBC reports, with more than 4,000 fans attending the opening performance. In 2017, Forbes reports that the residency has grossed more than $103m during its three-year run. 

2 November 2017 

Comedians Tess Barker and Barbara Gray begin the Britney’s Gram podcast, analysing Spears’ Instagram posts in the weekly episodes. 

18 October 2018

An event where Spears is expected to announce her next Las Vegas residency is described as “a complete mess” by Forbes. The singer makes one appearance during the event, and does not perform or speak throughout. 

November 2018

Jamie Spears’ colon ruptures and he is hospitalised for 28 days. In the same month, the payment that Wallet receives for his role as co-conservator is increased to $426,000 a year. 

4 January 2019

The singer cancels her Domination residency due to her father’s ill health. “I had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time,” she says on Instagram. 

March 2019

Wallet resigns as co-conservator. “He did not provide a specific reason for his resignation,” the Los Angeles Times reports. 

3 April 2019

Variety reports that Spears has “checked into a psychiatric facility after suffering from emotional distress”. She spends 30 days in the facility, posting on Instagram that she was taking “me time”.  

16 April 2019

The Britney’s Gram podcast episode #FreeBritney is released, featuring an “anonymous tip” from someone claiming to be a paralegal previously involved with Spears’ conservatorship. “The voice mail raised concerns about Spears’s well-being and personal autonomy,” The New York Times reports. 

7 May 2019

The singer's mother, Lynne, files legal motions “to be kept informed of all matters regarding the singer’s conservatorship”, NBC News reports. 

4 September 2019

Kevin Federline takes out a restraining order against Jamie Spears after an alleged altercation between him and his grandson Sean Preston in August. 

9 September 2019

Jamie Spears is temporarily replaced by Jodi Montgomery, an experienced conservator, regarding Britney’s person due to health reasons. He remains the conservator of his daughter’s financial assets.

14 July 2020

The Blast reports that Lynne Spears files documents to be included in decisions related to her daughter’s SJB Revocable Trust, a fund created in 2004 to protect her financial assets for her children.

1 August 2020

Jamie Spears refers to members of the #FreeBritney movement as “conspiracy theorists” in an interview with The Post. “I love my daughter,” he says, “but this is our business. It’s private.” He denies allegations of stealing money from his daughter.

August 2020

The singer’s sister Jamie Lynn Spears requests that money in a fund set up by Britney for her children be transferred to accounts for which Jamie Lynn is the custodian. After being named a trustee of Spears’ estate in 2018, Jamie Lynn “already has some say over her sister’s finances”, the BBC reports. 

2 September 2020 

Spears’ attorney Samuel D. Ingham III tells a court that “Britney herself is vehemently opposed to this effort by her father to keep her legal struggle hidden away in the closet as a family secret”. In what the Los Angeles Times describes as the #FreeBritney movement’s “biggest endorsement”, Ingham said “Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans”. 

10 November 2020

Ingham’s request that James Spears be suspended from his role in Spears’ conservatorship is denied by judge Brenda Penny. “My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father,” Ingham told the court. “She will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career.” The singer’s request that Bessemer Trust serve as co-conservator of Spears’ estate with her father is approved. 

16 December 2020

A judge rules to extend Spears’ conservatorship to 3 September 2021. 

5 February 2021 

The New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears is released, documenting the singer’s rise to fame as a child star to the moment her father took control of her affairs in 2008, and the unfolding events since. In the documentary, the paper’s senior editor Liz Day says that flaws in Britney’s conservatorship case “could reveal flaws in the bigger conservatorship system”. 

11 February 2021

James Spears’ objections to the delegation of conservator powers between himself and Bessemer Trust were denied by a judge. Control over Spears’ investments will be managed between the co-conservators. 

25 March 2021

Ingham files a petition for Jodi Montgomery to permanently replace James Spears as conservator over Spears’ person. 

31 March 2021

Spears writes in an Instagram post that she “cried for two weeks” after Framing Britney Spears was released. “I’ve always been so judged… insulted… and embarrassed by the media…” she said.

28 April 2021

Ingham requests a hearing be scheduled so that Spears can “address the court directly” about her conservatorship. The hearing is scheduled for 23 June 2021 in Los Angeles. 

23 June 2021

Speaking publicly for the first time about her conservatorship, Spears makes a plea to Judge Brenda Penny, saying: “I need your help.”  

During a 23-minute statement, Spears accused her father of abusing his powers over her person and estate, and said she wishes “for all of this to end.” 

“It’s embarrassing and demoralising what I’ve been through, and that’s the main reason I didn’t say it openly,” Spears says. “I didn’t think anybody would believe me.” Around 120 members of the #FreeBritney campaign group attended a demonstration outside the courtroom. 

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